“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Americans are a people who speak their minds. It is in our collective DNA, inherently who we are. Our country’s founders, in their genius, made sure to enshrine the right to speak one’s mind at the top of the Bill of Rights, protecting rights they believed were endowed to us by our Creator. Whether or not the men who signed their names to our establishing documents were Bible-believing Christians has long been a debate. Many scholars and historians believed them to be Deists. But Christian or Deist, the one thing that is not up for debate was their belief that the freedom of speech came from God.
In today’s current climate, freedom of speech in many places is being threatened. From political debate between conservative and liberal factions to religious and moral debate between Christians and non-Christians, it seems that if someone does not like what you are saying, their answer is to shut it down. We have seen the bulk of this activity on college campuses. Places like the University of California-Berkeley and Columbia University are notorious for uninviting speakers who the majority of students on campus disagree with. Some of us expect this, but what is the state of the First Amendment and free speech on Christian college campuses?
Most Christian universities are decidedly conservative-leaning based on biblical teaching. On the subject of free speech, Ephesians 4:15 tells us, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” We can also look to Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Many Christians revere the Constitution, including the First Amendment.
But there is an increasing number of school newspapers and student journalists who say that the environment on campus has not only made them “uncomfortable” to pursue certain stories, but many of them have experienced censorship by university administrations. This puts many student journalists in a quandary. They are being taught in class to be bold, ask questions, and that sometimes what they write may ruffle a few feathers, versus, in some cases, being told they are not being “Christ-like” if they publish certain stories.
According to a May 2018 article in The Washington Examiner, a survey done by the Student Press Coalition looked at free speech practices with universities affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Seventy-six percent of the respondents polled said that, “I or my school’s publication have faced pressure from university personnel to change, edit, or remove an article after it’s been published.” And like the publications from secular schools, money talks. The survey showed that roughly 84% of CCCU affiliated newspapers are university owned and therefore, university funded. This gives faculty advisers and others more control over what is allowed into the final product.
As Christians, we believe we have a unique worldview. We believe we know what the cause is for many of America’s woes. Many of us do not pay much attention to popular culture, mainly because we believe its content is antithetical to that unique worldview. But does that mean Christians are not interested in current events, like politics or the recent contentious Supreme Court nomination process, or social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage? Of course not. People of faith are just as concerned as anyone else about the stories and issues that are currently front and center on the American stage. University campuses are supposed to be the place where ideas are exchanged and debated, even ones that might be deemed controversial by Christians. Should a Christian university exempt itself from being part of that arena of ideas?
Students attend Christian universities because they seek out a faith-based education. But do we risk not printing stories that we believe the student body will be interested in, challenge thought, provoke debate, and perhaps might even affect them in some way because we might not agree with the topic and/or the premise of the story? Being comfortable is not the reason many student journalists are called to the profession.
Part of the education and training of future journalists should be the absolute protection of the First Amendment. It is not only how we plan to make a living – it could be argued that it is living out our faith.
Becky Noble is a contributor to the Daily Runner.